Diagnosed at age 10 with Type 1 diabetes, Eric Paslay grew up wanting to help kids with the same condition. Somewhere along the way he became a country music star – as a solo artist he’s had a top 5 country album, and as a songwriter he’s helped pen several #1 singles – but helping people with T1D remains a focus. Now Paslay has partnered with Dexcom on a new podcast series, “Level With Me,” that highlights the stories of regular people succeeding with T1D. We asked Paslay about his new show, about managing his condition on stage and on the road, and about how T1D changed his outlook on life.
What do you most hope to accomplish with the podcast?
I hope the podcast reaches whoever is meant to hear it. It’s amazing to hear the everyday stories of people living with diabetes, not just about their emotional diagnosis stories or conquering of incredible tasks. I want this podcast to encourage and inspire other people living with T1D and let them know they are not alone. This podcast is about connecting normal lives together with the common thread of diabetes.
I read that you once wanted to be a doctor. Does this podcast scratch that itch for you in some way?
I did want to be a pediatric endocrinologist when I was younger. The doctors and nurses I had growing up were amazing at their jobs and amazing kind people just in general and I wanted to be that for other kids with T1D. The plan of going to school to be a doctor got redirected after I picked up a guitar and started writing songs, but here we are now. “Level With Me” has joined two of my dreams together. The first is helping people navigate through life with T1D through life stories, medicine and amazing modern technology and the second is helping people with the medicine of music as a musician! Truly amazing how two of my passions have come together in such a special way!
The podcast has a unique structure: we get a slice of life from the interviewee, at home in a kind of diary format, and then he or she joins you in a Nashville studio to chat. Why was it important to meet people at their home?
The purpose of the podcast is to highlight everyday life of T1D’s and the way that people and their families navigate it. The podcast is filled with honest conversations that reveal how Type 1 is universal, personal and transformative all at the same time. It was important to meet the guests at their homes to get a true understanding and sense of their lives on a day-to-day basis – focusing in on all aspects including the good, the bad, the highs and the lows.
What does the title, Level With Me, mean? Is that a “glucose level” pun?
Yes, the title is glucose level pun that essentially highlights how everyone with Type 1 diabetes can relate to having low or high levels at any point in time.
You make a big effort to incorporate and give credit to the people without diabetes surrounding both yourself and the interviewee: supportive spouses, children, teammates, etc. Can you talk about that decision?
We’ve had some amazing guests who have amazing people in their lives that help them every day. As a T1Der I know how important it is to have a friend, a family member or a spouse walk with you and be there to help run and get a juice for you when your levels are dropping! I’m really happy that we’ve been able to include those who help all of us get though the highs and lows of Type 1 diabetes and their stories. It isn’t easy, and it can be very scary when a loved one has T1D. I’m glad we are getting to share that story from both sides of a diagnosis.
Dexcom is the sponsor. Can you talk about your history with them, both as a customer and as a partner?
I’ve been partnered with Dexcom for three years. As a customer of Dexcom, I appreciate the power of knowledge of the Dexcom G6, real-time glucose readings, the share feature and no more fingerpricks, which is critical to a musician on the road. We talk about it in the podcast, but the Dexcom gives my wife a lot of peace of mind when I’m on the road. She can just open the app and know I’m doing alright. And as far as being a brand ambassador, I love all the cool people I’ve had the chance to meet and how Dexcom brings me closer to the diabetes community.
At ASweetLife we advocate for carbohydrate restriction as the best possible way to regulate blood sugar levels. What does your day-to-day management look like?
My day-to-day management of food tends to be a lot of snacking, especially when I’m on tour or when I’m working on a renovation or projects around the house. When I do eat a meal, I tend to not eat a huge bowl of carbs, and as I like to say, no one needs to eat all of the icing! Moderation is the key and keeping a steady eye on your levels and staying ahead of a high or low glucose level will allow even a person with Type 1 diabetes to have a tasty life!
And how much more difficult is management it when you’re on tour? It’s not typically portrayed as the healthiest lifestyle…
When I am on stage, I always have a red Solo cup filled with orange juice. My crew follows my numbers through the Dexcom Share app on their phones and if my levels reach a certain point, they let me know. We have in-ear monitors so my crew can talk to me and let me know if I’m trending low and to drink my orange juice. With my Dexcom G6, it’s easier to manage my T1D on and off the stage since I have several other family members, friends and crew members following my numbers and ensuring I am staying on track.
It sounds like the Dexcom allows your whole team to monitor your glucose levels when you’re on the road and, especially, when you’re on stage. What was performing like before you had this technology? Ever take a fingerstick in front of thousands of people?
Dexcom has been a life and show changer! Before I had a Dexcom I had to totally rely on feeling a low coming on while I was running around a stage in front of thousands of people, hoping not to pass out in the middle of the party. There were a few occasions where I had to ask from the stage for a juice, so I didn’t pass out. That isn’t the best way to keep a show flawlessly flowing. Now, my team watches my levels from their own phones, with the Dexcom app, while I’m on stage. If they see a dangerous glucose level approaching they let me know long before it’s a problem. This technology has changed my everyday life and my livelihood. I 100% have better, more consistent shows since wearing a Dexcom.
Have you ever made references to your diabetes in your lyrics, explicit or otherwise?
You know, I have yet to make a diabetes reference in a song. I do say “Honey” and “Sweetheart” a lot, so maybe there’s a deeper meaning going on! Ha!
Can you imagine how your career would have unfolded differently if you’d never been diagnosed with T1D? Has your condition made you more ambitious or fearless?
Being diagnosed at 10 years old, I think that really encouraged me to reach further for my dreams than I otherwise would have. Being diagnosed with diabetes at such a young age definitely made me more ambitious to pursue music and have a mindset that anything is possible.
Your first two subjects have been adults that have “figured out” their condition as much as anyone can, and indeed have become pillars in their own local diabetes communities. But sadly there’s another side to the reality of Type 1, which is the thousands of T1D’s that lack support and do not have the wherewithal to manage their disease. Is that a story you’ll also try to tell?
The first two guests we have had are pillars in their T1D communities, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t struggled or had hardships because of T1D. I know there are many who struggle to find support, supplies and education to help them treat their Type 1 diabetes and it breaks my heart knowing that they are having complications because of it. I think having a guest on “Level With Me” who has had complications and is now overcoming those challenges would be great. It would shine a light on how serious this disease can be if not treated properly and also shine a light on how we can help those who need help finding the resources they need.
*Photos are provided by Dexcom
– Read our 2015 interview with Eric Paslay